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Monday, April 10, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: February 5, 2399

Mateo spent a little longer talking to the current passengers of the AOC than he intended, but that’s not really what’s preventing him and Ramses from returning to Mangrove One. After some thoughtful discussion, they decided that it’s time to get rid of Constance!Five for good. They also decided to keep Leona out of it, for reasons of plausible deniability, and to also keep her conscience clean. Some may simply call it destruction of property, but that’s in bad faith. What even is a person? Philosophers, civil servants, activists, and other thinkers in the main sequence spent millennia working on a definition that not everyone agrees on, even now. Constance!Five is a person, and if they want to destroy her, murder is the only word for it. To put it any other way would be a cop out.
They spent all day yesterday clearing the vehicle of all nonessential systems, including life support, which normally rests on the essential side of things. If the android wakes up before they get the chance to jettison her stasis pod, they don’t want her having any access to an electrical system. People often call ships tin cans jokingly, but in this case, that really will be what it is, except for the tin part. It’s the only post-transition metal that isn’t on the Bridgette.
They’re currently floating in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle to refuel with Existence water. “Are we ready to go?”
Ramses sighs, and looks around at the bare vessel, as if it were their home of the last twenty years, and they’ve just packed everything up to move. Ah, the memories. “It must be. I’ve modified the teleporter to only operate by the living fingerprints of both of us simultaneously, but only using my right pinky, left thumb, and left index, plus your right ring finger, right middle finger, and right thumb.”
“Sounds complicated,” Mateo says.
“It’s like a password. Constance!Five can presumably make herself look like anyone, perhaps down to the tiniest of details, but she won’t know which fingers to use.”
“She’s alive, though, so if you were thinking that her fingerprints also won’t work because of that—”
“No, no, no. That’s just so she can’t kill us, and then try to unlock the controls, because maybe she can’t replicate dactylograms, I don’t know.”
“Right.”
Ramses steps over, and hands Mateo a slip of regular paper. “Memorize this, and then destroy the paper.”
“This is what you just told me, about which fingers to use.”
“Yes.” His demeanor has suddenly grown somber.
“What is it, Rambo?”
“Did you memorize it?”
“Yeah, ‘cause I heard you the first time.”
“Recite them, in a random order, without looking at the paper.”
“My right thumb and middle finger, your left index, my right ring finger, your  left thumb, and right pinky. I’ve gotten better at my memory.”
“Okay, now switch my name with yours, and that’s the self-destruct sequence.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Your left thumb and index fingers, and your right pinky. If you place those on the panel of the teleporter, it will explode. You don’t need me to activate it, and I don’t need you. As long as one of us is alive, we can do it.”
“Why would we do that?”
“I think you know why. It is a last resort, but it is not a non-option. You hear me? We both have to go into this knowing it to be a possibility. Every enemy we’ve gone up against has been incredibly dangerous, but Constance may be the worst one. We don’t know that much about her, but think about how scared you have been of Danica because she runs the Constant, then multiply that by a thousand, and you may come close to understanding the threat she poses. Because she’s the one who truly runs it.”
“I understand. My right pinky, and my left index and thumb.”
“Okay, let’s hope we never need to use it. Remember, it’s only if she breaks free.”
“Definitely. Let’s do it to it.”
They take one more look around to make sure that everything is as safe as possible, then they prepare to make the jump. Ramses programs the teleporter to navigate to Heard Island. They align their fingers, and go.
Wreckage all over the place, the smell of once-burning fires overwhelms the air. Already decomposing bodies are strewn about. There’s a wheel, and there’s a wing. This was an airplane, and these people’s deaths are the team’s fault. They thought that this was a remote region of the ocean, but apparently not. They’ll have to worry about finding out why the plane was flying this far south later. For now, they have to find Constance!Five. They run over the rocks, avoiding the sharp edges of the metal. There’s the stasis pod. It’s closed. Not only that, but it’s still closed. She’s still in there.
“Is this just a coincidence?”
“Not likely,” Ramses replies. “Wait, what the hell is that?” He kneels down, and looks at the keypad. “Oh, shit.” He pulls something out of it.
“What is that?” Mateo asks.
“Something I didn’t put there. I think it was hacking the lock to find the code.”
Mateo breathes a sigh of relief. “But you got it in time.”
A soft hiss is released when the hatch of the pod opens.
“Evidently not.”
Constance!Five smirks as she’s coming out of the pod like a vampire from their coffin. “Don’t feel bad. I reprogrammed avionics to upload a quantum hack to the keypad. The upload was completed days ago, it’s been working in situ this whole time. You couldn’t have stopped it.”
Trying to think quickly, Ramses teleports right behind Constance!Five, and tries to inject her with a power suppressant sedative. She grabs the syringe, and breaks it between her fingers. “Fool me once.” She takes him by the neck, and begins to squeeze.
With only a little left air in his lungs, Ramses looks over at Mateo, and ekes out, “destroy Bridgette; only thing that can find Cedar.”
“Cedar?” Constance!Five releases her grip, and drops him to the ground.
Mateo looks over his shoulder at the Bridgette, then teleports away. That’s not where he goes, though. He jumps behind a boulder, and secretly watches Constance!Five try to follow him. He then jumps back to Ramses.
“You have to destroy it,” Ramses argues, massaging his neck.
“We will, but she has to be in it first, and I want there to be no escape. I know where to take her.” Mateo makes one last personal jump, taking Ramses with him. They’re in the crawl space underneath the fuselage. They can hear Constance!Five moving around up top, trying to induce what the hell is going on. Mateo slides over to program the destination himself, having researched this a long time ago. He was told it was an idiotic idea, but it may be the only one they have. They jump.
It’s extremely hot here, as one might expect for a chamber inside of a volcano. “Now you can go,” Mateo whispers.
“No.”
“Only one of us needs to die. Go! Please!”
The hatch opens, and Constance!Five sticks her head down. “Here’s Connie!”
“GOOOOOOOO!” Mateo shouts.
Thankfully, Ramses disappears.
“You’re not getting off that easy.”
“Yippee ki yay, motherfucker.” Mateo places the correct fingers on the teleporter. He can feel it start to heat up, and in seconds, the explosion begins. But it doesn’t keep going. Everything freezes, including Constance!Five.
A hand appears out of the aether, between Mateo and Constance!Five. It bends the fingers to meet the thumb, and starts turning around slowly. It kind of looks like a periscope. It stops when it sees Mateo. Then it opens up, and waves him towards it.
Mateo crawls towards the extraction mirror, but does slip through it. He keeps going until he reaches Constance!Five. If his mysterious savior from the future has the ability to slow time down long enough to mount an effective rescue mission, Constance!Five has time to framejack a way out of this predicament too. He needs to shorten that time as much as possible. He takes her by the shoulders, and drags her along the floor until she’s right up against the teleporter. Only then does he make his way back to the mirror, and dive in head first.
“Did that work? Is she dead?” Mateo asks. He’s in a room that he doesn’t specifically recognize, but it looks a lot like Constant architecture. Leona is there, as are Ramses, Leona, and Winona.
“It has not been that long,” Leona answers. “If she survived, we’ve not seen her.”
Mateo looks around. He sees what looks like a closed viewport. He slowly heads for it, and even slowerly reaches for the shade. No one stops him, so he opens it, and looks out. He sees the stars. It’s nothing new, and it doesn’t give him even an approximate location. This could be anywhere. “Guys...where are we?”
Leona smiles. “We’re at that Phoenix location in the Oort Cloud that we’ve been talking about for ages.”
“Finally made it, eh?” He nods and returns to the viewport, just to enjoy the starscape. He turns back upon realizing something. “Aquila said you’d find me here.”
“Yes,” Leona says. “She wasn’t wrong or lying. We just didn’t have all the info.”
He steps away, and takes a gander at the extraction mirror. “Have you used this for anyone else yet?”
Leona steps over to a control panel on the wall. With it, she opens the hatches for three cloning pods. “You were never killed, so you don’t need a new body. Neither do we. The rest have been taken care of.”
Mateo gets closer to see the clones that are growing in the pods. One of them is himself. The other two are Ramses and Leona.
“Okay. Maybe you’ve been gone for a little while.”

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